Cisco, Brocade continue data center network convergence push

Data center network convergence remains on the agenda for networking vendors. Cisco's new Nexus 5500 switches offer FCoE port provisioning options while Brocade's new network management software unifies storage and data network management.

Enterprises remain undecided on whether to pursue data center network convergence, particularly with Fibre Channel

over Ethernet (FCoE), but networking vendors continue to push the technology with new products. Cisco Systems and Brocade have both unveiled products this week that claim to ease the transition to convergence.

Cisco introduced a broad array of data center products on Tuesday, including servers, switches and software. One major highlight was the new Cisco Nexus 5548, a second-generation, fixed-configuration Nexus switch for server access with a new port provisioning feature that enables admins to set ports for various networking and strorage transport types.

 

Using the "Unified Port" feature on the Cisco Nexus 5548, admins can provision these varying transport types on a port-by-port basis for 16 of its 48 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports. Admins can set ports for Layer 2 or Layer 3 (BGP) lossless Ethernet, FCoE and iSCSI, as well as RDMA over Ethernet or Infiniband over Ethernet. The Nexus 5548 will be available later this year. Cisco will release a 96-port version of the switch, the Nexus 5596, in a 2 RU format next year.

"This tells me that [Cisco] is still committed to [its] FCoE strategy, even though it's not doing as well as [it] would have liked," said Ethan Banks (CCIE #20655), a data center network engineer with an e-learning software company.

Cisco has struggled to gain traction with FCoE mainly because networking pros haven't been able to sell storage administrators on the idea, he said.

"The guys who run Fibre Channel SANs like having a network of their own," Banks said. "When you talk to a storage guy and say, 'Hey, we want to take your network and bring it onto this big Ethernet network that's been doing data for a long time,' they're going to get worried about performance and a loss of control."

Many enterprises are also still unsold on the economics of data center network convergence using emerging standards like FCoE and data center bridging. They remain unsure whether the benefits of data and storage network convergence outweigh the costs of ripping and replacing non-converged infrastructure, according to Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president and distinguished fellow at the Yankee Group.

However, with a switch that allows enterprises to provision converged ports as they are needed, enterprises can dip their toes into converged technology,keeping their old infrastructure in place and only converging networks for new servers.

Brocade offers management platform for data center network convergence

Brocade, one of the only other vendors on the market with a significant presence in both Ethernet and Fibre Channel networking, offered its own stepping stone toward data center network convergence today with a new management application that provides a single unified view of storage and data networks.

The company claims that Brocade Network Advisor is the first application on the market that offers a unified management approach to IP (wired, wireless LAN and MPLS), storage area networks (SANs) and converged networks. It integrates with IT management platforms from HP Openview and IBM Tivoli and also features plug-ins for VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor management.

"More network vendors are taking management back into their own domains," Kerravala said. "It's been very difficult for traditional management vendors to keep up with the innovation cycle. If you believe you're going to have a converged network someday, this creates a single view across it."

Brocade launches 100 Gigabit chassis, Cisco unveils Catalyst 6500 chassis

Brocade also today unveiled its 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) core router/switch, the MLXe Router Series. The new chassis, which is compatible with existing MLX modules, can hold up to 32 100 GbE wire speed ports and has 15.36 terabits-per-second of backplane capacity. It can also support as many as 265 10 GbE wire speed ports. The MLXe chassis, which is available in multiple configurations ranging from 4 to 32 slots, has a starting list price of $22,245 and is available immediately. The 2-port 100 GbE modules for the MLXe will be available in the first half of next year with a starting list price of $194,995.

Brocade is marketing the new platform to both service providers and enterprises. The enterprise market is sure to remain small for some time, confined to the financial industry and hosting companies, Kerravala said. Brocade is offering more details on its 100 GbE offering than any other vendor, including Force10 Networks and Extreme Networks. Force10 and Extreme offered details about their own 100 GbE plans at Interop earlier this year but focused much of their efforts on 40 GbE technology. They claim 40 GbE products will enjoy wider initial adoption than 100 GbE in enterprise data centers because it is cheaper and offers enough bandwidth for most companies in the near term.

Cisco also announced a new chassis model for its venerable Catalyst 6500 Series, the Catalyst 6513-E, which supports all existing Catalyst modules and has 2 terabit switching capacity. Kerravala said that the larger, more powerful 6500 platform will allow existing Catalyst customers who are not ready to invest in the new generation of Nexus data center switches to get more out of their existing investments.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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